Children can be seen manning check points in many cities in Yemen, recruited by the warring parties in the conflict. The UN’s child agency UNICEF counted 738 minors were recruited with children as young as ten taking up arms. It marks a five-fold increase from 2014. However, they admitted this was a conservative estimate and there were likely many more.
What is crucial is a pledge by all sides to end the use of child soldiersSenior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch
Life under fire
Children growing up in Yemen face multiple threats. If they escape recruitment by one of the warring factions, they may be one of the victims of the fighting or the deepening humanitarian crisis. Children are disproportionately the victims of the war. Civilian infrastructure is not safe from attack with schools and hospitals finding themselves in the firing line. In 2015 alone, 900 children were killed and 1,300 wounded. The UN calculates that six children have been killed or maimed every day since March. Yemen is in the throes of an acute humanitarian crisis. According to UNICEF 178,600 children under 5 were treated for severe acute malnutrition and another 10,000 Yemeni children died from preventable diseases in 2015, due to what the UN called ‘the total collapse of the health system’.
An estimated one third of fighters in Yemen are children, many of whom have been captured and are now subject to an agreement between the warring sides.
“In the prisoners committee, an agreement was made on the unconditional release of children,” the United Nations envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said in a statement on Monday (6 June 2016).
It is unclear how many child prisoners are being held. According to Yemeni political sources Houthis and the government submitted a list of almost 7,000 prisoners they say are held by the other side.
“The parties should promptly fulfill their reported pledge to release captured children and build on this positive move by supporting their reintegration,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But what’s also crucial is a pledge by all sides to end the use of child soldiers. Otherwise these groups’ continuing violations will endanger children’s lives, as well as hopes for a better future for their country.”
The Iran-backed Houthi group and the Saudi-backed government in exile are in peace talks aimed at ending the war in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country. It has already claimed the lives of 6,200 people and caused a humanitarian crisis.
Find out more about Yemen’s forgotten war in our special report.